HL Deb 01 April 1924 vol 57 cc44-8

My Lords, my noble friend Viscount Astor is unable to be present this afternoon, and has asked me to address to the Government the Question of which he has given Notice—namely, whether they contemplate introducing legislation dealing with smoke abatement. I have no intention of inflicting a speech on the House on the question of smoke abatement because I have frequently made speeches on the subject before. But I should like to point out that those who are interested in this matter have a distinct grievance against successive Governments. The question has been fully inquired into, there is nothing more to learn about it, and the only people who oppose legislation are persons of a reactionary and obstinate nature. The Coalition Government, and also the Government of Mr. Bonar Law, professed benevolent sympathy with the proposal and promised legislation, but when the time came for them to keep their promises they discharged their duty in what I can only term a very mean way.

In the case of the Coalition Government what they did was to bring in a Bill at the last possible moment when the Session had nearly expired. That Bill failed Mr. Bonar Law's Government also brought in a Bill towards the end of the Session. There was but a very remote possibility of its passage into law in any circumstances, but it was naturally killed by the Dissolution. I am afraid the truth is that all Governments—I do not know whether the present Government is an exception or not—are convinced that there are no votes to be got out of the question of smoke abatement, and they all shy at bringing in a Bill. I do not know what the attitude of the, present Government is going to be, but I am a member of a deputation which is to see the Minister of Health the day after to-morrow, and I hope we shall receive a more satisfactory reply. In any case I hope the noble Earl who is going to answer will be able to hold out some prospect of legislation which is long overdue on this particular subject.


My Lords, the noble Lord has taken exception to what the last two Governments did in regard to this matter. He said they did nothing at all, and then went on to point out that, as a matter of fact, they did introduce two Bills dealing with this subject. They did not, therefore, altogether neglect this important question, and I can assure my noble friend that the late Government and its predecessor—I introduced both Bills—did take an interest in the subject and had great sympathy with the findings of the Committee over which the noble Lord so ably presided. Considerable exception was taken by certain interests to the Bill brought in by the Coalition Government in 1922. It was said that it would interfere with industry; and it was also felt, by the late Government that it would be undesirable to do anything which would interfere with industry and create unemployment at a moment when unemployment was very bad indeed. But they brought in a Bill at the end of the summer, which dealt with the whole matter, and it had the advantage that it did not conflict with industry and was not likely to disturb industry. That Bill was described by the noble Lord as a great improvement on its predecessor. I admit that it did not go so far as the findings of the Committee, but it did a good deal to meet a number of their points.

If the present Government are able to bring in a Bill dealing with this matter I shall be very glad personally, because I agree that smoke abatement is a matter of the utmost importance not only to the convenience, but to the health, of the people. If the present Government are able to go a little further than the last Bill I shall welcome that also. If we can meet the findings of the Committee it will be greatly to the public advantage, and I hope it will also be possible to include Government establishments as well. I hope it will be possible to deal with this matter by legislation, and that the present Government will be able to pass a Bill which we were prevented from doing by the Dissolution.


My Lords, as a representative of what the noble Lord has called "reactionary and obstinate elements" let me utter a slight caveat that the last Bill was, in the eyes of some parties, not absolute perfection. I have at home a little dossier from which I had hoped to have had an opportunity of making one of those speeches which would have appealed to your finer political instincts, in which I had hoped to demonstrate that the Bill, which the noble Lord thinks so good, would largely have increased what I call the bureaucratic executive power. I have great respect for our valued Civil Service, but I am jealous of entrusting them with final executive power; and it would have, remained under that Bill in the power of non-responsible members of the Civil Service absolutely to increase the legislative effect of the measure which was last introduced. I do represent, and I have had serious representations made to me, those who much object to anybody but the responsible Minister having the power to extend the provisions of that Bill to industries without the consent of Parliament.


My Lords, the Government have the fullest sympathy with the noble Viscount in this Question. They fully realise the importance of the matter and the difficulties connected with it. They, too, are anxious not to do anything that would hamper our industries, which we hope are beginning to revive. At the same time they feel, in spite of this, that there is considerable room for further legislation on the matter. It may be pointed out that any legislation which is passed through Parliament will require to be largely administered by local authorities, and the efficiency of such a measure will depend very much therefore on the support of strong local public opinion. As the noble Lord has said, the Minister of Health is receiving a deputation on this matter in the near future, and I hope your Lordships will excuse a somewhat sketchy reply now, as the Government would like to consider this matter after receiving the deputation.

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